HANCOCK -- For the better part of five months, Bill Barrol has lived on five square miles of paradise along the Potomac River in Washington County as caretaker of the Woodmont rod and Gun Club, which for 125 years served the hunting lifestyles of the rich and famous.
"You can see the history of this place all around us," said Barrol, as he led an impromptu tour of the rustic lodge Tuesday. "In the game room you have gifts from famous people who have hunted here - Amos and Andy, Babe Math, Gene Tunney, a half-dozen presidents of the United States.
"In the dining room, there are original Audubon prints. In the great room, there is the president's chair, which always had a place of honor before the great fireplace."
Woodmont is a throwback to eras when the game was brought to the hunters by drivers beating the brush or by strategically releasing game birds. But now the tract and its facilities are an integral part of the future of public outdoor activities in Maryland.
On or about Jan. 4, ownership of the 3,500-acre tract of steep, forested ridges and shadowy ravines will be transferred to the state of Maryland, purchased with $3.1 million from Program Open Space, a land acquisition fund derived from dedicated taxes on purchase prices paid for houses bought in the state.
"We hope you are looking at what will be the future," John R. (Griffin, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, said during the tour of the property. "The time when the department can afford to buy and operate large, public facilities like Sandy Point State Park or Assateague State Park past.
"Woodmont presents a chance to change the system and
diversity public use of these types of lands."
Griffin proposes to contract with concessionaires to operate parts of Woodmont, especially the 18,700-square-foot, 35-room lodge, and to attract business year-round while retaining the remote, wild feel of the land.
Griffin said: "If we can privatize certain parts of this operation, and the businesses that lease those parts can make a profit and split it with us, then we are that much ahead, and those earnings can be channeled into other parts of the department that need help."
Privatization would not, Griffin said, jeopardize federal funds that are contributed to fish and wildlife restoration and management programs.
Nor would privatization re-create the storied hunts at Woodmont, when the club raised its own pheasants and turkeys, and dozens of shooters and guides and servants dined at different tables in different cabins.
Barrol, who works for the Nature Conservancy, stopped the half-dozen touring vehicles at the bottom of a narrow, rutted road Tuesday, at a place called Camp Cleveland.
On either side of the road stood large log cabins overlooking two fishing ponds created by damming a mountain stream. The cabins, Barrol said, were used for the mid-day meal when there were hunting parties on the property -- one cabin for the shooters and one for the workers.
"This was hunting on a grand scale," Barrol said. "In some ways it is awe-inspiring, and in other ways it almost seems too much of the rich and famous."
On every wan of the lodge there are mounts of animals taken here or elsewhere over more than a century by club members -- deer, moose, elk, water buffalo, bison and springbok.
A morning hunt at the club might produce eight or more big bucks, a half dozen turkeys, pheasant and grouse.
At the top of one shale ridge, the Woodmont bird-rearing program continues. Hundreds of turkeys strut along the road, free to leave their pens during the day and almost certain to return at feeding time. In several enclosed, wire-mesh pens, pheasants, quail and chukar are raised.
Rather than chance a bad day of hunting, in recent years guides and handlers would release a predetermined numbers of birds per hunter in the area to be hunted.
But there was a time when the odds of success were even higher, said Bill Burton, former outdoors editor of The Evening Sun who hunted at Woodmont several decades ago.
"The birds would be taken to one side of a ridge and chased up over the top of the ridge line," Burton said. "The hunters would be positioned in a depression of land just beyond that ridge top, and the birds took flight just over their guns.
"But that was nothing compared to the fenced-in thousand acres."
Along the northwest side of Woodmont Road, which leads from Interstate 68 to the site of the rod and gun club, portions of a 10 foot fence still stand, a 10-foot fence that surrounded 1,000 acres.
In the fall of the year, after the state firearms season for deer, Burton said, the Woodmont Rod and Gun Club held its special deer hunt within the confines of the thousand-acre wood.
"When deer were not in season the caretakers would cut holes in the fence to let the deer come and go," Burton said. "Once the state season started, the deer would head for the sanctuary of that 1,000 acres, and the caretakers would close the holes to keep the deer in."